Following up on the spectacularly successful Easy Rider, Peter Fonda's languid Western is certainly a feast for the eyes. The film's opening, a lyrical five-minute montage of superimposition layered upon superimposition, a virtuosic display of optical printing prowess if there was one, is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Much of the rest of the film, while never quite reaching the artistic heights of the opening, is filled with lush landscapes and abundant cinematic tricks. Performances are uniformly nuanced and understated, particularly Warren Oates as Arch Harris, who plays the role with remarkable naturalness. Unfortunately, Fonda's film never quite gels into the revisionist masterpiece it threatens to become. In a scene newly restored to the print, Hannah brazenly -- shockingly for the time it was made -- admits to Harris that she has taken numerous lovers. Yet the film never quite forms into a feminist critique of Westerns. The montage of Western landscapes seen during Collings' and Harris' flight from Del Norte seems to push the film towards a environmental reverie, but again Hired never quite follows through. The Hired Hand is an ambitious, beautiful work and an exemplar of anti-establishment filmmaking during the early '70s that never quite lives up to its potential.
by Jonathan Crow review